Nolte: 29 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

United Artists via IMDB
United Artists via IMDB

Halloween is my favorite time of year. Sure, Christmas is great, but you don’t have to put up a tree and all those exhausting decorations for Halloween. The weather’s better, too. Autumn rocks. Most of all, I love watching horror movies, something I do throughout the whole month. Nothing but horror movies.

This year’s cycle has been devoted mostly to Vincent Price, especially the series of gothic Edgar Allen Poe adaptations he made with director Roger Corman. Last year it was Hammer’s Dracula franchise starring Christopher Lee. The year before that, my all-time favorite horror series, the Universal monster franchise starring Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff — Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

In-between, I indulge in zombies and Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers and ghost stories and the like… Anything really, except for nasty titles like Saw and Hostel. That’s the only word I can come up with to describe them — nasty.

Anyway,  earlier this year I listed my favorite 53 movies of this new century. Since this is Halloween weekend (give or take), it seemed a good time to list my favorite horror movies of the new century.

Why 29? No reason other than these are the movies I wanted to call your attention to. And I tried to stick to horror-horror. Movies like World War Z are closer to an action-thriller. Open Water is more of a suspense-thriller.

It’s all subjective, but I still hope some of you will take this list very personally — you know, as a personal affront should your favorite movie fail to appear here and then freak out in the comments. That’s always my favorite part of publishing these lists.  By far.

In no particular order…

  1. Fright Night (2011)

It’s no fun to admit this, but I’m one of those people hates to see Hollywood remake a favorite of mine, especially something like Tom Holland’s Fright Night (1985), which is a cult classic, something I loved right away and watched the rest of the world catch on to. It feels like my movie, so hands off.

What a pleasant surprise this was.

Replacing Roddy McDowall’s has-been horror star with a tortured Las Vegas magician turned this remake on its head and into something all its own. You can’t reproduce McDowall’s magic, so why try? And what we end up with is something legitimately scary and exciting.

  1. Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A monster hit in theaters, and you can see why. Great cast, frightening — sometimes terrifying, and it is so because it treats Christianity with respect and as something real.

  1. Piranha (2010)

Gory, sexy, suspenseful, hilarious, shocking, gratuitous T&A, wildly over-the-top violence, and a perfect-perfect-perfect Richard Dreyfus cameo. Pure fun.

  1. The Descent (2005)

Once the six girls enter the cave, this sucker never lets up. The stakes keep increasing until you just want it to be over. And then you want to see it again. As wild as things get, the script is never dumb. The characters are never dumb.

  1. 30 Days of Night (2007)

This one’s grown on me over the years. Brilliant concept.  Vampires come to feast on a town so far north in Alaska, there’s no sun whatsoever for 30 days.

  1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning(2006)

Other than Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), this is my favorite sequel/prequel in the franchise Hooper launched all the way back in 1974.

The Beginning is a prequel, an origin story, and R. Lee Ermey had me laughing the whole time. The final ten minutes — especially the final kill, gave me nightmares.

  1. Zombieland 1 & 2 (2009 – 2019)

Funny, scary, pro-redneck, politically incorrect, gory… All I ask.

  1. 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007)

A plague released by left-wing terrorists turns everyone into mindless, blood-thirsty maniacs. My favorite of the two is 28 Weeks, the second one, which literally had me digging my nails into the armrests.

  1. Land of the Dead (2005)

It had been 20 years since his last zombie classic, Day of the Dead (1985), and the master, the creator of the modern zombie, the Mighty George Romero, returned to show everyone how it’s done.

  1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Probably the most charming zombie movie ever made, but never cute. In-between a ton of laughs, people die. People you care for. A slice of fried gold.

  1. The Ring (2002)

On no sane planet should this ludicrous concept have worked. But it sure did.

  1. Frailty (2002)

Bill Paxton directs and co-stars with Matthew McConaughey about a serial killer on a mission from God.

  1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Above I mentioned how much I hate Hollywood remaking my favorites. Well, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) is nearly sacred to me. Still, Zack Snyder’s remake is beautiful in its relentlessness, starting with the opening scene. It lacks the themes that makes Romero a movie god, but it’s still a helluva ride.

  1. The Others (2001)

Nicely done haunted house movie with a great twist.

  1. Paranormal Activity 1-4 (2009 – 2012)

These movies scare the wits out of me.

  1. Green Inferno (2013)

Eli Roth not only pays glorious and unsparing tribute to the classic cannibal films of the 1970s, he has all the right things to say about the arrogance and phoniness of left-wing activism, especially in the hands of self-righteous narcissists. I still can’t believe this movie got made.

  1. The Orphanage (2007)

Scary and heartbreaking. Beautifully acted by Belén Rueda. Spine-tingling sequence with Geraldine Chaplin.

  1. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Another remake I fell for. See, I have an open mind. Nothing will ever touch Wes Craven’s 1977 original, but this sucker delivers some brutal moments and (accidental) patriotism.

  1. The Strangers (2008)

Top-shelf home invasion thriller. Uncompromising. True horror.

  1. Joy Ride (2001)

Paul Walker and the great Steve Zahn are estranged brothers who play a mean prank on the wrong guy and the stakes just keep growing and growing and growing… About 100 times better than it had any right to be.

  1. Blade II (2002)

This probably shouldn’t be on the list. It’s more of an action-slash-superhero movie, but I just love it so much. Still Guillermo del Toro’s best movie by a mile.

  1. Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Those first 30 minutes… Holy moly! Best horror opener since When a Stranger Calls (1979). Maybe the best since The Fly (1958).

  1. The Conjuring (2013)

This is the Pirates of the Caribbean of horror movies. This first one earns so much of your goodwill, you keep laying down money for inferior sequels.

  1. Vacancy (2007)

Ingeniously crafted. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant screenplay. It’s no wonder the writer has gone on to much bigger things. Perfectly crafted and structured 85-minutes.

  1. A Quiet Place (2018)

A writing and directing tour de force from that guy from The Office. Not only terrifying, but a love letter to the traditional family and a rare Hollywood reminder that dad’s matter.

  1. Train to Busan (2016)

You’re trapped on a bullet train with flesh-eating zombies… Brilliant concept, brilliantly executed. Scary as hell. Great characters.

  1. Diary of the Dead (2007)

The Mighty George Romero’s penultimate zombie classic is rich in theme, thick with dread, and a movie I hated at first and have come to love… I’ve changed my mind on other movies, but never like this.

  1. Funny Games (2007)

This movie is so disturbing, I hate it, but keep right on watching. That final scene. Man alive.

  1. The Last Exorcism (2010)

Terrific concept about a preacher who lost his faith and is now a cynical con man performing phony exorcisms on unsuspecting rubes. Then he runs into a real demon. Chilling. Superb sound design and direction. True gem.

Other than being awesome, something else these movies have in common is how re-watchable they are. Either the scares never wear off or, after they do, the movie is still a pleasure to watch.


Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.


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